Work Characteristics and Parent-Child Relationship Quality: The Mediating Role of Temporal Involvement

Article excerpt

This study investigated whether the amount and nature of parent-child time mediated the association between parental work characteristics and parent-child relationship quality. We based hypotheses on the conflict and enrichment approaches, and we tested a path model using self-collected data on 1,008 Dutch fathers and 929 Dutch mothers with school-aged children. Longer working hours and less work engagement were associated with less parent-child time and longer working hours, more restrictive organizational norms, stress, flexibility, nonstandard hours (mothers only), and work engagement increased the disturbance of parent-child activities. Less and more disturbed parent-child activities were, in turn, associated with a lower parent-child relationship quality. In addition, work engagement and working hours had direct, beneficial effects on parent-child relationship quality.

Key Words: interaction, paid work, parent-child relations, structural equation modeling, time use.

In Western societies, parental employment, and maternal full-time employment particularly, are often considered detrimental for the parentchild relationship, especially when children are young (Bianchi, Robinson, & Milkie, 2006). It has been argued that paid work harms the parent-child relationship because it restricts parents' available time and attention for children. Even though research has shown that this claim is largely unjust (Bianchi, 2000), the exact mechanisms that link parental paid work to the parent-child relationship need further examination. So far, studies on the impact of work demands on family life have focused either on the time spent with the family (e.g., Bianchi et al., 2006) or on aspects of the quality of family relationships, such as marital satisfaction and parent-adolescent conflict (e.g., Crouter, Bumpus, Head, & McHaIe, 2001; Schoen, Rogers, & Amato, 2006). Although the association between the two outcomes has seldom been considered, we argue that parents who face high work demands may have lower quality family relationships because their work restricts them from spending quality time with their family. This mechanism has been studied for the marital relationship (e.g., Poortman, 2005) but not for the parent-child relationship.

Expanding the current literature, we address the following research question: Do the amount and nature of parent-child activities mediate the association between parental work characteristics and parent-child relationship quality? In addition to studying the amount of time that parent and child spend together, we argue that the nature of joint time is relevant and that the parent-child relationship is more likely to benefit from activities that are more focused on the child and less interrupted by other activities.

We further contribute to the literature through our conceptualization of paid work. Previous research has focused mostly on paid working hours, but work is more than spending time away from home (MacEwen & Barling, 1991). For example, job insecurity and stress take time, energy, and attention away from the family as well. We therefore consider a wider range of work characteristics that are commonly examined in the literature on the family friendliness of organizations, namely the organizational culture, job insecurity, stress, flexibility, nonstandard working hours, and work engagement (e.g., Mauno & Kinunnen, 1999; Presser, 1994; Thompson, Beauvais, & Lyness, 1999). We found this specific selection to be relevant for families in previous research and to encompass work experiences, as well as the psychological, normative, and temporal features of a job.

A final asset of this study is the inclusion of both fathers and mothers. Previous research on work and parent-child time has focused on mothers and has largely overlooked paternal employment. Yet fathers have increased their share of child care in recent decades (Bianchi, 2000; Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, 2006), and their involvement benefits children's well-being (Amato & Rivera, 1 999). …